Aboriginal youth conference attracts more than 1,400

Aboriginal youth conference attracts more than 1,400 attendees.

Damian Boyd’s voice was one of many aboriginal voices layering upon one another, creating a harmony of conversations that resonated through the Vancouver Island Conference Centre Thursday.

Boyd, 15, is a member of the Kluskus First Nation and travelled from Kamloops to attend the Gathering Our Voices: A Generation on the Move Aboriginal Youth Conference held in Nanaimo March 20-23.

Boyd, a second-time conference participant, dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.

“My future plan is to start a business,” he said.

The workshops on small business creation were particularly appealing to him.

The sessions are a lot of help and offer information he’ll use. Although he’s undecided as to what business he’ll operate, he’d like to explore the possibility of a skateboard shop.

More than 1,400 youth and chaperones attended the conference, aimed at aboriginal youth ages 14-24.

The 10th annual conference was presented by the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and Nanaimo’s Tillicum Lelum Friendship Centre. Conference workshops and activities were held at the VICC, Coast Bastion Inn, Port Theatre, Neutral Zone Gymnasium and the Best Western PLUS Dorchester Hotel.

Rikki Wylie, a youth worker at Tillicum Lelum, said the event gets bigger every year and is huge compared to the inaugural conference.

“Youth are what’s important and they are the ones here to shine,” said Wylie.

Gathering Our Voices offered several workshops to aid in personal development, create cultural connections, environmental activism, entrepreneurships, healthy nutrition and sexual health and dealing with conflict during tough times and more. There was also a talent show highlighting aboriginal artists in various mediums.

Wylie said there aren’t a ton of aboriginal artists First Nation youth can see in mainstream media, so the talent show is a great opportunity to see the range of performers.

“They see how talented people are and the gifts people have and it gives them something to aspire to,” he said.

Wylie has participated in previous conferences as an attendee, but said it was a different experience to view it as a chaperone and organizer.

For first time conference attendee Jedney Davis, 14, of the Blueberry River First Nation, who travelled from Fort St. John, the event offered him an opportunity to experience new things.

“It’s very exciting,” said Davis.

When he returns home, he plans to share what he’s learned with his family, friends and community.

Aboriginal youth under the age of 25 represent more than half of the First Nation population in Canada, according to the March 2008 Horizons publication by the Government of Canada Policy Research Initiative.

The publication, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future, discussed the need for government to focus attention on aboriginal youth issues.

Researchers found that current public attention is preoccupied with the baby boomer generation and the growing aboriginal population has “flown under the radar” for a number of years but strategies must be developed to address the needs of the “rapidly growing aboriginal youth population”.


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